Rights groups slam govt over demos

HARARE - Zimbabwe is still far from respecting its own Constitution as demonstrated by the heavy-handed methods police used when they dispersed peaceful demonstrators on Monday, rights groups said yesterday.

In statements, rights and democracy organisations in Zimbabwe castigated the continued “disregard of the Constitution” by the Zimbabwe Republic Police, after they bashed and arrested demonstrators in Harare on Monday.

Police, who are part of the civil service, arrested Rural Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe (RTUZ) members Obert Masaraure and Pride Mukono as well as Youth Advocacy for Reform & Democracy (Yard) member Robson Chere, who were demonstrating against government’s failure to pay civil servants salaries and bonuses on time at Parliament in Harare.

After they were released late on Monday RTUZ leaders Masaraure, Chere and Mukono sought treatment at a local medical facility while Rutendo Kawadza, an activist affiliated to the Zimbabwe Activists Association, joint organisers of the protest march, suffered a fractured knee bone, when she was attacked by the police on the day.

And in light of this, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) spokesperson Kumbirai Mafunda said police needed lessons on the Constitution and its provisions otherwise they will continue breaking the law.

“The police are still having a complete disregard of the Constitution which now has freedoms that allow people to protest peacefully as provided in Section 59 of the Constitution which guarantees freedom to demonstrate and petition.

“The police continue to abuse the Constitution through their arbitrary actions and this shows the urgent need for the police to be given constitutional education and training so that these violations of people’s rights become a thing of the past,” said Mafunda.

Although Section 59 of the Zimbabwe Constitution aptly states that “every person has the right to demonstrate and to present petitions, but these rights must be exercised peacefully,” the government is still using nefarious pieces of legislation such as the Public Order Security Act to thwart demonstrations.

Rights groups say the demonstrations by the underpaid teachers, who work in difficult conditions, were peaceful.

Yard founder and national coordinator Temba Mliswa called on the three tiers of government, the judiciary, executive and Parliament to look into ways of bringing to book human rights violators.

Mliswa said government should ensure that “all instances of police brutality and excessive use of force by law enforcement officers are investigated promptly, effectively and impartially by an independent mechanism with no institutional or hierarchical connection between the investigators and the alleged perpetrators”.

“The impunity enjoyed by members of the law enforcement agencies is roundly denounced and we rise in solidarity with the thousands of civil servants who have been robbed of their hard-earned salaries and bonuses and further had insult added to injury by being beaten down for daring to illustrate and display their frustrations and sheer hopelessness with the situation.

“It is shameful that police could not tolerate even a peaceful protest and shockingly tried to disperse the protesters using reprehensible means.

Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights) weighed in describing the move by the law enforcement agents as “unlawful”.

“ZimRights maintains that the arbitrary arrest of peaceful protestors by police is a flagrant violation of the new Constitution, which guarantees the right to freely demonstrate and petition in Section 59 and in the Bill of Rights in Chapter 4. The arrest of protestors also confirms the continued closure of democratic space in the country,”  ZimRights said in a statement.

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